Wiccan in Virginia Gains Clergy Status After “Miscommunication”

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 22, 2012 — 12 Comments

In June of this year, I featured a guest post from Literata Hurley, a Wiccan priestess and theaologian, who had just been denied clergy status in the state of Virginia, despite meeting all stated legal requirements (clergy in Virginia must register with a circuit court to perform legal marriages). Arlington County Clerk of Court, Paul Ferguson, told Hurley at the time of her application that there were unstated “other things” preventing his approval and that he didn’t “feel” she qualified.

“She left and came back with the Clerk of Court, Paul Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson said that they were not going to approve me. I asked if it was because we don’t have a building. He said, “Yes, you don’t have a building, and there were a few other things.” I asked him if he would give me a written list of the reasons I was being denied. He refused; he offered to show me the relevant section (Sec 20-23) of the Virginia Code. I assured him that I had read the Code, and asked again if he would give me more specific reasons I was being denied. He said that approving these applications was at his “discretion” and that he didn’t “feel” I met the qualifications, but he wouldn’t tell me how. He told me that I could apply to another court in another county but that he thought they would probably give me the same answer.”

That attitude started to change after Americans United For Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the Arlington circuit court, with the court responding that it had all been a “miscommunication” between the clerk and Hurley. Having got that response, Hurley returned to the Arlington County Circuit Court, and applied again.

Literata Hurley with authorization.

Literata Hurley with authorization.

“She [the clerk] had to go get approval from someone else; she said that the person who wrote the reply to Americans United for Separation of Church and State had to review my new application and paperwork. That took a little while, but she came back and said that it was approved, and then it was a matter of paying the fee, taking an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia and to do my duty fairly and impartially, and then I got the official authorization!”

So after an journey of several months, one that included the aid of Pagan elders like Circle’s Selena Fox and Assembly of the Sacred Wheel’s Ivo Domínguez, Jr., in addition to the support of her ordaining body, Order of the White Moon, and a letter from Americans United, Arlington County, Virginia finally did what it was supposed to have done back in June: authorize a Pagan clergyperson to perform legal weddings. Hurley says that she hopes this will open the doors for other Pagan clergy looking to get their authorization, and lays out the paperwork she brought with her on the day of her approval.

For anyone who wants to apply in Arlington in the future, here’s what I took with me: Certificate of Ordination; Letter of good standing (to show that I am “in regular contact” with my religious organization); Certified copies of the articles of incorporation of the Order of the White Moon, the most recent business filing with California showing that the Order is still active; Copies of the letter from the IRS granting OWM its 501(c)3 tax exempt status and the most recent filing with the IRS showing that OWM is still active and exempt; Letters of support from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Ivo Dominguez Jr. of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and Sacred Circle bookstore, attesting to my standing as a priestess and the ministry I do; and a letter of support from a coven sister who also lives in Arlington, because the court insisted that I show “a connection between [my] ministry and the Arlington community.”

Despite the completely unnecessary hassle and delay, this is in important step forward in making sure that Pagan clergy are recognized even if they don’t adhere to the “church and pews” model many Americans are comfortable affirming. In the past, Pagan clergy in Virginia would travel to a different circuit court when denied in Arlington, now this doesn’t have to be the case. I urge clergy in the area to make sure this miscommunication is never repeated, and that when you travel to Arlington for authorization remind them that they approved Literata Hurley on this day. My thanks to Literata for her work here, and to the elders who supported her, and Americans United for defending her legal rights.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Ewing/822281529 David Ewing

    Great to hear! There is still inequality within the Commonwealth on what a person needs to present to be authorized to perform religious weddings. Literata had to bring much more than is necessary at other circuit courts. The court I went to this past April only asked for a copy of my ordination certificate, completion of a simple form which asked for the name/address/web address of the church, an oath and a small administrative fee.
    One point of clarification – the headline of this article is a little misleading. The Commonwealth of Virginia does not grant clergy status. Clergy status is granted by an affiliated religious institution. The only function the Commonwealth exercises in relation to this issue is in certifying that an ordained person is allowed to perform religious marriages.
    – Virginia Act for Religious Freedom (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+57-1)

  • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

    Congrats to Ms Hurley! I hope it all goes well in the future for her.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Kudos to Ms Hurley for her persistence!
    The unanswered question for me is: Are we Pagans successfully nibbling away at the South? Or is northern Virginia demographically no longer part of the South what with the large number of DC commuters from all over the US?

    • http://www.facebook.com/lorna.tedder Lorna Tedder

      Yes, we are. I’m seeing changes in GA, Northern FL, and AL. That’s about as Southern as you can get.

      • dug

        In some places things are getting better, in others not so much. I have a friend in the small town of Jefferson GA who runs a public coven. She has heard from freinds that there soon-to-be former preacher is spreading all manner of lies about Wiccans and is calling for her to be burned out.

    • Hecate_Demetersdatter

      Well, I think both are true. NoVa is much more cosmopolitan and politically liberal than the rest of the Old Dominion. But I think that, through brave and persistent acts such as Literata’s, Pagans are successfully nibbling away at all of the blocks to our equal participation. Thanks to all who worked to make today happen.

  • http://www.gopagan.com/ GOPagan

    Congratulations indeed. It’s a pity that she had to jump through all those hoops, but now that they’ve been jumped, hopefully those who follow will find it an easier time.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Successful but disappointing. A far better precedent would have been set by the matter being adjudicated in the federal courts and the county ordered to give recognition.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I fear this is a pre-existing condition. Cases about licensure, zoning, custody — where being Pagan matters, and can be a problem — don’t generally rise to the federal level.
      Laudable though Ms Hurley is, she didn’t do it alone. She got institutional support from well-known folks who are serious as a heart attack, and similar jurisdictions have seen the consequences of religious stonewalling. It’s not as crisp as a formal precedent but may actually be more durable.

  • http://profiles.google.com/johnd39 - steward -

    I find this interesting:
    “taking an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia”

    How do Quakers or Jehovah’s Witnesses get the requisite permission to perform marriages and become clergy? And in Virginia of all places, poor Jefferson must be rolling in his grave…

  • Sunweaver

    Hooray! And congratulations!
    This is another step toward equality.

  • Kilmrnock

    This may be a bit off topic , I have been a regular reader of your blog for quite some time . Missed your blog for the few weeks you were in transition , Good to have you back my freind . And btw , the whole bit about having problems w/ Virginia doesn’t surprise me in the least . My family is from Eastern shore MD , an area also known as Delmarva . Things are still a bit old fashioned , backward there . Tis part of the south after all.Just look at the Senators from Va., about as hard line conservative as you can get .Cantor , the butt head is from Va. Kilm